On Saturday I went to the market before having any coffee. Terrible idea. I was nearly mauled by a stroller traffic jam and was generally out of it until I saw the bright red stalks of rhubarb tucked away behind some potatoes. As if I’d just mainlined 5 shots of espresso, I woke up from my zombi state and began shoveling rhubarb into my basket. It seems I wasn’t the only one who was seduced. For the rest of the morning, women kept stealthily leaning over to ask me where I’d found the rhubarb sticking out from under my arm. I told them to go to the stand with the nettles, and they looked at me with a knowing expression, as though we were in on some giant secret. The Saturday market brings out a lot of psycho moms and pushy dads, but its those women that make it worth going (even if you’re like me and can’t afford to buy very much).
Rhubarb, at least in my eyes, is the first true sign of spring. It means there is no turning back, that summer really is on its way, and that there will be other brightly colored things to cook with soon (strawberries, tomatoes, lemon cucumbers…and on and on). Yes, it’s great to have ramps and brussel sprout shoots and all the other incredible things that come out right around now. But rhubarb is the brightest, and also, a hell of a lot of fun to cook with.
As the honored quest, I didn’t want to just mash the rhubarb up in a pie. I wanted to proudly showcase its color and (for lack of a better word) supreme rhubarb-ness, and what better way to do so than a tart? Then, my twisted mind began imagining a take on an apple cake recipe I read about on Orangette, along with a rhubarb tart recipe I’d read in this month’s gourmet. Before you know it, I was up to no good in the kitchen, rinsing my rhubarb down while devising my hair brained scheme.
A good baker will tell you that improvising is for the cooks, baking is for the precise. Being quite good at the former and quite unskilled with the latter, I try to forget what the good bakers say. All good rules were meant to be broken anyway. Go and pick the rhubarb in your yard and see for yourself. The cake is crispy on the edges, the rhubarb caramelized and glazed with orange juice, and if that doesn’t convert you perhaps this detail will: the dough is made in your food processor and there is no rolling to do. Out comes a beautiful tart-cake, and you’ll have barely broken a sweat. See?
RHUBARB TART CAKE w/ ORANGE GLAZEAdapted from Molly Wisenberg, who adapted a recipe from Judy Amster’s friendThe trick here is to soak the rhubarb in orange juice before assembling the tart—which will help make the rhubarb tender while retaining its shape while baking (so you don’t end up with rhubarb mush).For The Cake:
1 Cup flour
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 pinch salt
5 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, and cut into small pieces
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
For The Filling:
2-2.5 lbs. of rhubarb, thinly sliced on the diagonal (1/8 inch slices)
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbs. lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. apricot preserves (without any large pieces of fruit)
For The Topping:
3 Tbs. melted unsalted butter, cooled slightly
3 Tbs. of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 Tbs. of freshly grated orange zest, for garnish
1. In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb, orange juice, lime juice, and sugar. Mix to coat and let it sit for 10 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
3. In the bowl of your food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse to combine.
4. Add to the bowl of the food processor the butter, pulse until the dough has no large pieces and has a crumbly texture.
5. Add the egg and vanilla extract to the flour mixture, pulse again until a dough forms, about 30 seconds.
6. Dump the dough out into the center of the springform pan. Using your knuckles (if you use your fingertips, the dough is more likely to stick), nudge the dough into the bottom of pan. Work from the center to the edges of the pan, and once you’ve spread it pretty evenly, work your fingertips around the edges to create a slight “crater.” This will be the crust of your tart.
7. Strain the rhubarb into a small bowl, reserving the liquid for the glaze.
8. Arrange the rhubarb in a circular pattern on the dough—don’t worry about it looking crowded. Use as much of the rhubarb as you possibly can, because as it cooks down, you don’t want to have gaps.
9. Once the rhubarb is assembled, place in the oven for 45 minutes.
10. While the cake is baking, in a small bowl whisky together the egg, melted butter, sugar, and cardamom to make the topping.
11. After 45 minutes, the cake should be slightly set and puffy. At this point, remove the cake and spoon the topping evenly over the top. As Molly said, it will look like you’ve done something terribly wrong, but don’t worry. It will all be fine.
12. Bake the cake for another 20 minutes, and remove once the cake and topping looks set and the rhubarb has become slightly carmelized.
13. Let the cake cool for an hour on a rack. Take a small sharp knife to loosen the edges of the pan, then unlock the sides of the pan and transfer the cake to a plate or cake stand.
14. In a small saucepan, cook the reserved liquid for the glaze down until it has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. At this point, whisk in a tablespoon of smooth apricot preserves. Simmer for 5 minutes, then take it off the heat.
15. Using a pastry brush, apply the glaze to the rhubarb cake. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve immediately. Tastes even better the next day! Serves 6-8.